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Farewell to St. Petersburg

26.12.2013

Farewell to St. Petersburg

Nacho Duato’s productions invariably attract the attention of Russia’s ballet critics, but it is his version of The Nutcracker that has aroused the most heated critiques. The first performances were accompanied by a flurry of publications, with virtually all the reviewers remarking on how closely the Spanish choreographer’s latest work follows Russian ballet traditions. „A heartfelt farewell to Russia from the choreographer“, „his homage to the city that has astounded him with its grandeur“, „a step in the right direction towards understanding classical Russian ballet“ — such words of praise can be found in almost every review. Izvestia was even more specific: „the Mikhailovsky Theatre’s Nutcracker harks back to the greatest periods in Russian culture“.

The Kommersant reviewer felt pangs of „nostalgia for past dances“, discerning in Duato’s production „episodes from Fokine’s Petrushka and Scheherazade“ and „the grace of the Faun at rest“. Nezavisimaya Gazeta also saw parallels with the Fokine-Benois production of Petrushka, but noted that the choreographer nevertheless „breathes more easily in those moments when his trademark style breaks free from classical forms“, particularly „when in the dance of the guests, the flowing materials of the dresses echo Duato’s flowing movements“. Izvestia, meanwhile, remarked on the similarity between Duato’s production and „Balanchine’s ballet, in which the choreographer recalled his childhood in St. Petersburg“: these ballets are „fairytales free from Hoffmann’s subtexts or apocalyptic allusions“. According to Izvestia, some of the best uses of choreography in the ballet were the two „large neoclassical ensembles, the Waltz of the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers“, which featured „the compositional beauty of alternating symmetrical and asymmetrical structures“ with vivid culminations of „diagonal bursts“. Vedomosti was of the same opinion: „Duato achieves genuine inspiration at the most unexpected moments — the ballet’s purely classical compositions, namely the Waltz of the Snowflakes, the Waltz of the Flowers, the Adagio of Masha and the Prince“. „On this occasion, Duato is not merely trifling with classical ballet, but is making a serious attempt to adhere to its style and strict canons“.

The reviewers differed in their evaluations of the extent to which the influence of the literary original can be felt in the ballet. „Nacho Duato’s Nutcracker is remarkable for its original choreography, its unconventional interpretation of the music and the philosophical basis of Hoffmann’s tale“, wrote Igor Stupnikov, the doyen of St. Petersburg’s ballet critics, in Sankt-Peterburskiye Vedomosti. „Duato does not wallow in the conflicts that have consumed modern producers of The Nutcracker; no trace of Freud or Kant can be found“, asserted the national Vedomosti. Fontanka.ru disagreed: the Internet portal believes the ballet is „essentially a children’s tale“, with „Hoffmann’s games playing a subconscious role“: „The whole story of the doll’s transformation into the Prince is not at all the dream of Masha but that of the Nutcracker — to be more precise, it is a secret reality disguised as a dream“. „But most important of all“, concludes the Fontanka review, „is the way the whole ballet blends in with the vivid emotion of the choreographer... nothing forced, nothing artificial — the ballet is delivered in a single breath“.

The dancers in the principal roles earned the highest praise. „Leonid Sarafanov’s performance as the Prince-Nutcracker is literally perfect“, wrote Moskovsky Komsomolets, underlining that Duato would have struggled to find „another performer with such a delicate sense of all the originality, airiness and musicality of his choreography“. „Oksana Bondareva’s reincarnation is wonderful“, was Fontanka.ru’s assessment of her performance as Masha. „In the playful episodes she is so natural, with a teenager-like gaucheness that is rare among ballet artistes, but when she moves into the magical metaphysical world she becomes an imperious ballerina“. „The principal duos in the two premiere performances were very different“, remarked Nezavisimaya Gazeta. According to the newspaper, Victor Lebedev does not yet have „the solidity of age“, but „his boyish adoration is a paradoxical mixture of impetuosity and restraint“. „Angelina Vorontsova blended perfectly into this production“, opined Nezavisimaya Gazeta. „Her style, manner of execution and gentle lines are ideally suited to this Christmas fairytale, which is devoid of infernality but is entwined with the glitter of Christmas cards from a bygone age“. The other members of the premiere’s cast were also mentioned by the reviewers: Marat Shemiunov (Drosselmeyer), Irina Perren (Oriental dance), Sabina Yapparova and Mario Labrador (French dance) and the four performers of the Russian dance — Ivan Zaytsev, Nikita Kuligin, Sergey Strelkov and Andrey Lapshanov.

However, the most important element, as highlighted by Moskovsky Komsomolets, is „the atmosphere that permeates the ballet“: „It is a real New Year production — festive and Christmassy“.

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